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Easter Peace Marches 1958-1968

That was ten years ago today when men, women and young people went westwards into the icy sleet that whipped across those wide open spaces between Hounslow and Slough. For the banner at the head, that day, read: March from London to Aldermaston - the first "Aldermaston March" coinciding with the American "peace walkers" week-long trudge to the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The first time we heard about a march to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston was on the evening of February 18, 1958, towards the end of a meeting in the Central Hall,* Westminster. Canon John Collins** announced that the recently formed Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament would organize "actions dramatic and undramatic from time to time". One of the former was to be the Aldermaston March starting after a meeting in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday, "to emphasize," said the Canon, "the public demand that production of nuclear weapons in this country shall cease."

* (Central Hall - the headquarters of the Methodist Church in London; built in 1912, the assembly hall, which has a fine organ and seats for an audience of 2,700, is a favourite venue for concerts, recitals, and meetings; in 1946 it became the first meeting-place of the General Assembly of the United Nations.)

** (Canon John Collins - Chairman of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (C. N. D.), takes an active part in anti-war movement.)

The Government at first tried to ban the Square to the marchers on the specious excuse that it would disturb the Good Friday service in St. Martin-in-the-Fields.* Nevertheless, over 5,000 people set out from the Square after hearing journalist Michael Foot** tell them "Lift up your heads: this is a crusade that we are going to win." Four weatherbeaten days and 53 blistering miles later, well over 3,000 marchers massed at Aldermaston to listen to Pastor Niemoller, one of the Germans who defied Hitler, and other speakers.

* (St. Martin-in-the Fields - a church in the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square in London.)

** (Michael Foot - a well-known Member of Parliament (Left-wing Labour).)

Ten years may seem a long time, but few crusades in which heads could be lifted high were won in a decade. The effects of peace demonstrations are not often tangible or measurable against any simple slide rule.

(Morning Star)

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